Don’t blame COVID for binge-watching, says Brock prof

MEDIA RELEASE: 5 May 2020 – R0079

If you spent any of the last eight weeks binge-watching The Great British — or Canadian — Baking Show, you’re in good company. So has Brock University film and television scholar Liz Clarke.

The Professor in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film says people who binge-watch during social isolation can be assured that the industry is ready for them, because “binge-watching has a longer history than just the more recent rise of Netflix and other streaming sites.”

“We’re in an era of niche programming that is bolstered by the way social media works and by the algorithms that video-on-demand (VOD) sites use to show you new shows to watch,” Clarke says. “We have even more control over how and when we can watch shows, which has ultimately brought us to a time when binging content seems to be the norm.”

This development has shifted the focus of content creators, who are well aware of the trends in media consumption, from a long-range goal of syndication to one of creating shows that can be watched weekly or binged and then rewatched, picked apart by devotees and talked about for years to come.

Clarke points to NBC’s The Good Place — a sitcom that originally aired weekly but has seen a steady growth in popularity on Netflix — as an example of a show that “you can watch over and over and discover new jokes each time.”

“Part of the re-watchability is seeing all the threads coming together at the end of the season in a really satisfying way and thinking, ‘Wow, I want to understand how they did that,’” says Clarke. “We go back so that we can see how the narrative unfolded in such a pleasurable way.”

Though it may seem like we are in the golden age of binge-watching, problems loom on the horizon, both due to production restrictions related to COVID-19 and changing delivery structures.

Clarke also notes that the rise of competing VOD services, each with their own exclusive content and cost, will soon mean people are paying as much as they were when they subscribed to cable to get all the shows they want.

Clarke questions the sustainability of the Netflix model of dropping an entire season at one time.

“We talk about the season for a few days and then move onto the next thing,” she says. “If long-running shows are slowly replaced by shows that have a couple limited seasons, it could be a great period for new content — but it would be terrible for the long-term job security of writers, casts and crews.”

For the time being, though, there is no shortage of viewing material.

As to what people will choose to binge-watch over the coming months, Clarke says it’s a matter of knowing your personal taste and seeking out recommendations of others who share that taste.

“When Brock switched to online learning for the last two weeks of Winter Term due to the provincial shutdown, I was in the middle of teaching about streaming and binge-watching,” she says. “I asked my students to recommend shows to watch while in isolation and now I have a list that could last me until 2022.”

Liz Clarke, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film, is available for phone and video interviews on the issue.

For more information or for assistance arranging interviews.

* Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University or 905-347-1970

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